The Link Between Success and Intelligence

tablet with the word Intelligence across the top and text that we can't read

It might not be wise to greet your boss by saying, “Hey, dummy!” But it might be accurate.

We’ve all looked at a supervisor or executive at some time or another and thought, how in the world did they get there? Some assume they must be smarter than the rest of us. But sometimes, they appear to have no idea what they’re doing. That can be endearing in a “we all need to band together and find solutions” kind of a way. But more often, it’s annoying and frustrating as the person at the top pivots, can’t make decisions, or changes their mind frequently.

The Peter Principle was alive and well in various stages of my broadcasting career. In a nutshell, the Peter Principle says people are promoted based on their past work until they reach a level where they’re no longer competent. They rise above and out of their abilities. They become as transparent as cling wrap as they scramble to appear capable of the job.

Who’s Smarter Anyway

A new study finds intelligence has precious little to do with rising high in the corporate ranks or making loads of money. In fact, those at the top might not be as smart as those who answer to them.

The study looked at 60,000 men around age 40, conscripted into the Swedish military. That country requires men between 18-30 to do military or civilian service. Researchers had access to these men’s histories including intelligence tests.

It found that smarter men made more money and achieved higher ranks, but only to a point. After a salary the equivalent of about $85,000 CDN, the brain power started to slide. Those who rose even higher and made bigger money were no smarter than the rest. In fact, the top 1% were a little less intelligent. Their achievements are attributed more to “extreme luck than extreme skill”.

This study has lots of limitations, of course. It looks only at men, only Swedish men, and only a single type of organization: the military. It isn’t diverse in any way. But 60,000 humans is a large study group. And although they cite “luck” as a factor, I think it’s logical to throw office politics into the mix along with buddy activities like golf and bullshitting over a beer.

The Buddy System

I wrote freelance articles for a major company’s website a few years ago. Everything was fine until the big boss hired a new supervisor for us writers. He had never written an article or managed content creation for a website. But he was old friends with the big boss and out of work.

This guy changed his mind every day. I’d have a complicated article mostly written when he’d issue a new directive that made my effort a waste of time. He truly was an idiot in this line of work. A smart person would have talked to us and asked for our input. Finally, after our calm and reasonable complaints did nothing, more than half a dozen of us quit on the same day. The guy was fired not long afterwards.

This is a horrible thing to do to people: help one person while piling massive stress on others down the chain. And it’s only one example. There’s a lot more than intelligence being assessed in career advancement. Just look up the company ladder for the proof.

1 thought on “The Link Between Success and Intelligence”

  1. Intelligence has never been a criteria for advancement in my experience. its been a reward for a good job not whether they’re capable.

    I’ve always said, job titles don’t impress me, they simply define ones duties, obligations and responsibilities, nothing more. Respect is earned not bestowed by demonstrating one has the ability to perform the job and many don’t. I may respect the job title, not necessarily those who hold it.

    As a person with a disability my greatest challenge and disability has not been that I have a disability, but those in power and the decision makers who are my greatest challenge and disability.

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